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Content Gating – Should you be considering it?

In our latest blog, our Commercial Director Lyndsey Irwin discusses Content Gating – what is it, is it a viable income stream and the things you need to consider if it’s a route you are planning.

Content Gating

As sports organisations explore ways to increase loyalty and ultimately generate revenue in a rapidly changing digital landscape, content gating is one approach which is gaining traction.

What is Content Gating?

Content gating is when a website uses a form to capture user information in exchange for valuable content. The intention here is to gather data and convert anonymous visitors into identifiable prospects, or in terms of sport, generate future, or more engaged fans.

Content can also be gated behind a paywall where fans register and pay a monthly or yearly subscription to view it.

Content Gating in Sport

Content gating isn’t really anything new for organisations working within sport. Football clubs, in particular, have been gating video content very successfully for years.

Arsenal FC are just one example of a club gating content

I spent 10 years working in a rugby club environment in the 2000s and while there was no budget, resources, or even really a demand for video back then, there was definitely a period of time when password protected sections of websites shielding exclusive news content and competitions were ‘a thing’.

However, the classic vicious circle of not enough resource to produce good quality content and too few people prepared to pay for it meant that these efforts fell by the wayside.

So what’s changed to make sports organisations look again at gating their content?

Well, firstly in 2019 we’re all now much more aware of the value of fan data. And crucially, sports organisations have a much better idea of what to actually do with that data in terms of delivering a more personalised experience for fans, generating revenue and offering value to commercial partners.

Secondly, with the ever-increasing focus on digital, and particularly on video content which is so easy to consume online, we’ve seen clubs, federations and governing bodies react by employing digital specialists and skilled videographers with the sole remit of producing online content.

Compare this to 10 years ago when I, the Media/Comms Manager was solely in charge of generating content for the website and uploading it, while also organising and running press conferences and player appearances, writing the match programme, marketing matches, working with sponsors and all the other things that fell under the ‘and any other duties’ line on the job description. Even if I managed to record or film anything on my phone I certainly didn’t have any sort of editing skills that would have helped me package it well enough to sell it to someone as part of a subscription.

Thirdly, with the rise of subscription services in the past 5-10 years like Netflix, Patreon and The Athletic, people are now accustomed to paying for content and are prepared to pay for something that is well-produced.

Patreon is a content subscription platform

It’s no longer a stretch to ask people to pay an extra £4 or £5 a month for exclusive content, in fact you often hear it described as “less than the price of a pint”.

So is content gating a win-win for sports organisations?

Here at Sotic we’re fairly split on content gating.

Everyone can see some benefits to gating content but there is also a good argument for making your very best content free and widely available in order to get as many eyes consuming it as possible and exciting and engaging fans, both new and old.

If you are considering content gating, my advice is to approach it as part of a well-researched strategy with a real onus on resourcing.

  • Do you have the resource to continue to properly service and keep improving your offering to your main digital audience (non-gated content) as well as your members long-term? You’ll have some ongoing resourcing costs as long as you gate content but you’ll also incur some technical development costs in Year 1 so you’ll want to ensure that you’ve got an offering that isn’t just going to be something that people sign up to for a month or a year, it needs to be compelling enough to keep them renewing.
  • Have you properly considered what types of content you would gate? Have you obtained some specific fan personas that you are aiming to attract? This is important because not all fans want the same things. My husband and I are both sports fans likely to pay for extra content but he’s much more interested in match action and stats while I prefer a human-interest angle to anything I consume. Can you cater for both of us? Do you need to cater for both us?
  • And of course, is your content actually any good? Is it well- designed, substantial and crucially, original? Is it something that fans can’t get elsewhere? (hint – it should be, you have the best access to your players, coaches and behind-the-scenes footage). Would you pay or trade your data for it?
    I’ve mentioned above that there are some technical, development and support considerations around setting up and maintaining gated content too, that’s something Sotic can help with.

We’re talking to a number of clients about digital membership and subscription packages right now, which will go further than the pure video highlights/matches offering that are already fairly common-place in the sports market. They’ve been able to put together a good business case which illustrates how, if they properly resource the creation of good quality content which interests their fans, then there is a really viable revenue stream to be had.

At Sotic we have over 17 years of experience of working in digital sport. If you’d like to talk to us about content gating, or any other digital sport project, we’d love to hear from you.

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